Tuesday 20 August 2013

Rationalism vs Postmodernism

This from John Goldthorpe's On Sociology. I think it works as a pithy summary of what was at stake during the postmodern detour much social theory took from the late 80s to more recent times.
[Western rationalism supposes] that a world exists 'out there', independently of the ideas about it that any particular scholar or scientist may hold; that it is possible to use language in order to make statements about this world that may be regarded as being true in the degree to which they accurately represent or 'correspond to' it; and that the attempt to determine their truth, or otherwise, can be carried out through various procedures grounded in a generally valid logic governing the linkage of evidence and argument ...

[Postmodernism argues] there is no world 'out there' existing independently of our representations of it, or, that is of the ways in which we socially construct it through our language; thus, the criterion of the truth of statements cannot be correspondence with such an independent world; truth is not discovered but it is rather made, and is made, moreover, on many different ways, and always with a moral and political intent; thus all truth is 'local' and 'contextual'; there is no knowledge that can claim a privileged, objective, and universal status by virtue of the methods through which it is secured, only 'knowledges' that are specific to particular communities, cultures, and so on, and that serve their purposes." (2000, p.8)
Plenty of food for thought in there I might return to in due course.


Anonymous said...

Yes, but you're a white cishet male, therefore this post is invalid.

Phil said...

But I come from a working class background, so it means a smidgen of what I have to say is valid. Or it would be if the intelligentsia regarded class as a sexy category.

Anonymous said...

We have had these sorts of debate before on the left. Debates about universalism.

The pro imperialists usually fall on the universalist side in order to justify what is laughably called humanitarian intervention. They also use this to flatter Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and all that guff. This method conveniently ignores all the concrete realities, histories etc.

However, when a situation like Egypt comes up, where our pro imperialist scum comrades have to justify military terror and despotism, universalism is conveniently ditched and the particularities are highlighted and considered the all important factor!!

This kind of duplicitous thinking makes Healy look like a fucking sage.

Phil said...

Indeed. If one was true to the Enlightenment spirit of fearless enquiry then you have to be prepared to undertake what Marx liked to call the 'ruthless criticism of all that exists'. Failing that, an observation from our old chum Althusser is quite apposite - it goes something like "sometimes, what is not said is more significant than what is said".